Green Bay hoping to continue strong start

Packers could return several players, while Buccaneers could be missing several big pieces
Morgan Rode
Sports Editor

Fresh off their bye week, the Green Bay Packers are now gearing up to play their toughest stretch of games.

First up for the red-hot Pack is a road contest with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

The Bucs’ roster underwent a roster overhaul during the offseason, with the signing of quarterback Tom Brady dominating the headlines. Despite all the additions, Tampa Bay is off to just a 3-2 start, including a one-point loss to the Chicago Bears to kick off week five.

The Buccaneers offense amassed 339 total yards in the loss to the Bears — which was just under their average of 365 for the season. Tampa’s defense surrendered 243 total yards — even better than its season average of 298.2.

Hoping to avoid a two-game losing streak and keep pace in the NFC South, the Buccaneers will try and bounce back against the Packers.

While the record might suggest the Bucs are a slightly above average team, Packers coach Matt LaFleur doesn’t see things that way.

“They’re as good as any team, I feel, in the league,” said LaFleur during his Monday press conference. “When you look at their roster, they got great coaches that have proven success so we got a great challenge in front of us…”

Like Green Bay, Tampa Bay has been hampered by injuries to some key players. The teams seem to be trending in opposite directions in that regard though.

The Buccaneers lost tight end O.J. Howard two weeks ago to a ruptured Achilles tendon and then saw defensive lineman Vita Vea leave the Bears game with a broken right leg. Receiver Chris Godwin has missed three of the team’s past four games.

The Packers will be without rookie tight end Josiah Deguara the rest of the season after he tore his ACL, but the team could get several others back.

Receiver Davante Adams and defensive lineman Kenny Clark both were listed as questionable heading into the game against the Atlanta Falcons, and after not playing and then having the bye week, both players are expected to be back on the field this Sunday.

Linebacker Rashan Gary and tight end Marcedes Lewis could also return for the Packers after missing the Falcons game.

Despite some of the big injury issues facing Tampa Bay, LaFleur still sees plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

“Offensively, they’re capable of some big-time plays — they got great skill positions,” said LaFleur. “I think their o-line is really good. And then obviously, they got a Hall of Fame quarterback.”

“They got two extraordinary runners. They just got a lot of good pieces.”

Going into Sunday’s game, receiver Mike Evans will serve as the biggest threat as a pass-catcher for Tampa. Should Godwin miss the game, the Bucs might lean on rookie receiver Tyler Johnson again after his four-catch, 61-yard showing against Chicago.

Even with Howard out, Tampa Bay has plenty of tight end talent remaining, including Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate.

Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette are the two backs LaFleur was talking about. The duo has just under 500 rushing yards and three touchdowns combined already, although Fournette is dealing with an ankle injury that limited him to one offensive snap against Chicago.

“Defensively, going against (defensive coordinator) Todd Bowles a few times, I think he’s a tough guy to go against,” said LaFleur. “They have a really sound defense that can present a lot of different challenges. They’ve got playmakers and they’re very, very fast on the defensive side of the ball.”

With Vea out, the Buccaneers might have to send more bodies at Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on blitzes, which would open up some opportunities in the passing game.

The absence of Vea could also open up the running game a bit for Green Bay’s Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Tampa Bay comes into the contest allowing a league-low of 58.4 rush yards per game.

Tampa’s pass defense has been average so far, so with Adams back, the Packers offense could be in store for another big showing.

Sunday’s game will serve as a big measuring stick for the Packers.

“It’s going to be a great challenge for us and we’re going to have to put our best effort throughout the week in our preparation to go down there and get the result that we want to get,” said LaFleur.

Fans in the stands

For the first time in the 2020 season, the Packers will play a game in front of fans.

It’s expected for Raymond James Stadium to have approximately 25 percent of its seating capacity for Sunday’s showdown. The stadium has a capacity of 65,890.

“Even though it’s going to be a limited number of people, I think just the opportunity to kind of get a little bit of feel of what is normal to them, I think it will be good for us,” said LaFleur.